There are more than 19 million families in the United States that are “housing insecure,” meaning they’re either experiencing homelessness or paying more than half of their monthly income on housing.

Current programs aren’t meeting the needs of these and other struggling families. It's going to take fresh ideas and new policies to address the nation's rental housing crisis.

One of the organizations thinking hard about this is Enterprise Community Partners, which has unveiled a sweeping housing platform complete with 23 policy recommendations.

Terri Ludwig
Arnold Adler Terri Ludwig

“Families who are severely burdened by housing costs are often just one paycheck or unexpected expense away from losing their homes,” says Terri Ludwig, president and CEO of Enterprise Community Partners. “Housing insecurity impacts everything from health to education outcomes to economic opportunities. Our bold new vision for housing policy will attempt to reverse this troubling, growing trend.”

In addition to digging into federal housing policy, An Investment in Opportunity looks at what can be done at the state and local level, says John Griffith senior analyst and project manager at Enterprise and one of the report’s authors.

“In order to make an meaningful dent in the problem and make sure that the solutions to the problems meet the local needs, it really requires a significant action from the state and local government as well, which is why we go into zoning, land-use restrictions, allocation of low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs), and state and local housing trust funds,” he says.

The report is unique in another way. Unlike other policy platforms that have come out in recent years, An Investment in Opportunity looks beyond traditional housing solutions and examines wages, the child tax credit, and other ways that can help a family’s financial stability, which would improve their housing situation.

Several of the recommendations are in agreement with other recent proposals. For example, Enterprise calls for the gradual doubling of annual allocations of LIHTCs. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Housing Commission in 2013 proposed increasing housing credit resources by 50% over current funding levels.

At the same time, Congress should consider extending the LIHTC program’s affordability requirements beyond 30 years, says the report.

Enterprise’s recommendations are built on four overall strategies for reform:

1. Ensure broad access to high-opportunity neighborhoods:

  • Improve the Sec. 8 program and expand regional mobility programs to help more families with rental assistance vouchers access high-opportunity neighborhoods;
  • Establish state and local laws banning “source of income” discrimination by landlords;
  • Balance the allocation of low-income housing tax credits and other federal subsidies to both high-opportunity neighborhoods and distressed communities;
  • Establish inclusionary zoning rules at the state and local levels;
  • Establish state and local regulations that encourage innovation and promote the cost-effective development of multifamily housing;
  • Incorporate affordable housing into local and regional transportation planning through equitable transit oriented development;

2. Promote comprehensive public and private investments into low- income neighborhoods:

  • Preserve existing affordable housing while creating mixed-income communities;
  • Build capacity of public, private and philanthropic organizations at the local level to pursue cross-sector solutions to the problems facing low-income communities;
  • Create state and local land banks and other entities to return vacant and abandoned properties to productive use;
  • Make permanent and significantly expand the New Markets Tax Credit;
  • Create a new federal tax credit for private investments into Community Development Financial Institutions and similar entities;
  • Establish federal regulations that encourage impact investments;

3. Recalibrate our priorities in housing policy to target scarce subsidy dollars where they’re needed most:

  • Reform the Mortgage Interest Deduction and other federal homeownership subsidies to ensure that scarce resources are targeted to the families most in need;
  • Gradually double annual allocations of low-income housing tax credits and provide additional gap financing to support the expansion;
  • Significantly expand funding to Sec. 8 vouchers to ensure that the country’s most vulnerable families have access to some form of rental assistance;
  • Expand funding to the Housing Trust Fund and the Capital Magnet Fund;
  • Break down funding silos to encourage public investments in healthy and affordable housing for recipients of Medicaid;
  • Create permanent funding sources at the state and local level to support affordable housing;

4. Improve the overall financial stability of low-income families:

  • Establish minimum wages at the federal, state and local levels that reflect the reasonable cost of living;
  • Expand the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit and other essential supports ;
  • Create a new federal fund to help test and scale innovative financial products that encourage low-income households to save;
  • Help more low-income families build strong credit histories; and
  • Establish strong protections against predatory financial products.

The report notes that the majority of the recommendations can be implemented with little or no long-term cost to taxpayers. However, some of the policies carry significant cost. All told, once fully phased the policies in the platform would require an additional $60 billion to $70 billion in annual investment from the federal government, estimates Enterprise.

“While certainly a big price tag, Congress could cover a significant portion of the annual investment through smart reforms to the mortgage interest and property tax deductions—two remarkably inefficient subsidies that cost taxpayers roughly $100 billion each year—all while expanding support to the homeowners who need it most,” says the report.

“As we weigh the costs and benefits of each proposal, we must also consider the high cost of inaction—the price of allowing millions of Americans to remain stuck in communities without access to good schools, jobs and other opportunities,” says Enterprise.

Read the full platform online here, or download the platform as a PDF here.